A man was arrested late on Friday after a spate of nighttime sexual assaults on young girls at campsites in the south of France
Since the end of June, seven young girls between the ages of seven and 12 have been victims of rape or sexual assault at campsites across the scenic Ardèche region, a popular spot for both French and foreign holidaymakers.
The latest attack occurred at the Chantalou campsite in Saint-Didier-sous-Aubenas at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, when a man sneaked into a tent where two girls aged 10 and 11 were sleeping, just yards from their parents’ caravan.
According to French media, the attacker then raped one of the girls before her screams forced him to flee.
France’s RTL radio revealed on Thursday that the assault was the latest in a series of attacks at campsites in the region.
The proximity of the incidents, the short time period and the similarity of the victims suggested a lone predator was at large. In each incident the attacks took place in the dead of night.
Rural idyll shattered
The attacks have left a stain on this normally idyllic corner of France, which receives around 270,000 visitors each year, a quarter of whom are from abroad.
The region's campsites attract thousands of tourists during the busy summer holidays who come to enjoy the unspoiled landscape.
The ease with which the assailant entered the campsites to strike at will has shocked and frightened many holidaymakers.
“The owners are very strict about security here. Access to the campsite is not easy,” one camper at Saint-Didier-sous-Aubenas told French daily Le Parisien.
The first incident being linked to the series of attacks occurred at a campsite in Ruoms at the end of the June. The victim was reportedly a young foreign tourist who was assaulted in a mobile home.
Similar incidents occurred at campsites in Privas, Lavilledieu and Vogüé, according to France's Europe1 radio.
A member of the staff at the Chantalou Campsite, which is now the focus of much media attention, was reluctant to speak when contacted by FRANCE 24.
“The police are handling the investigation and we have no further comment to make,” she said.
According to the AFP news agency, other campsites across the region have confirmed that they are stepping up security in the wake of the sexual assaults.